Unknown assailants detonated powerful explosives at a government-run Radio Pakistan FM radio transmission tower at approximately 1:00 AM on March 20 in Wana, Pakistan. The explosions were heard miles away and disabled the facility for two days. No casualties were reported and service has since been restored. The town of Wana is located in the South Waziristan Agency of Pakistan’s restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), part of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) that borders Afghanistan.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Yet Pakistani sources are confident that the strike is the work of local militants aligned with the Taliban that have been engaged in a longstanding battle with Islamabad (Dawn, March 20). The attack comes amidst heavy fighting in the region between government forces and resident Pashtun tribes known to be sympathetic to the Taliban and possibly al-Qaeda.
The radio station went on the air in July 2004 as part of an effort by Islamabad to reach out to the area’s residents and to counter pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda propaganda operations. Its programming intended to justify both Islamabad’s expanded yet highly unpopular security presence and heavy-handed military operations meant to root out Taliban and alleged al-Qaeda elements believed to be hiding there, along with their local sympathizers. The station broadcasts, inter alia, news in the Pashtu language, traditional folk music, and religious programs (The News International, March 21). The station also publicizes official announcements detailing government development projects and other activities ongoing in the area, six hours per day, divided between mornings and evenings over an approximately 13-mile radius.
The radio transmitter is located near several government buildings and a paramilitary base of Pakistan’s Frontier Constabulary units (The News International, March 21).
An Indian source reports that the attackers placed the explosives near the base of the aerial transmitting unit of the station, possibly to ensure the facility would be disabled (New Kerala, March 20).
This most recent attack against the radio transmitter is the second against the facility. It was first bombed on July 27, 2004, just a few days after it began broadcasting. Pakistani security officers exchanged gunfire with the alleged attackers in 2004. No gunfire or other direct contact with the perpetrators was reported in the latest incident.
Prior to the initial attack against the tower, militants distributed leaflets threatening Islamabad to halt its broadcast of news, music, and what they labeled as government propaganda (The News International, March 21). Pakistan’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting Sheikh Rashid Ahmad stated that the latest attack against the transmitter was similar to the previous attempt to destroy the facility (Pakistan Observer, March 22).
Despite what would appear as a priority security zone in and around official government buildings and the nearby paramilitary base, militants succeeded in taking out the tower for a second time, albeit temporarily. Islamic militants in Pakistan have a record of returning to previous targets for follow-up attacks.
The strike against the radio transmitter in Wana may also point to a concerted Taliban effort to target communication infrastructure, especially facilities designed to link Islamabad to the region. This makes it harder for Islamabad to make inroads in FATA. Significantly, militants bombed and destroyed a telephone exchange on March 22 in the Shakai region of South Waziristan Agency, located just north of Wana, disabling local telephone access in the process indefinitely. The attack essentially cut Shakai off from the rest of the country temporarily (Dawn, March 22).